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Command(er) & Conquer(ed)

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The speculation was rampant. The suggestions, and their reasoning behind them, were varied. And ultimately many of us were correct in some ways but all missed the big surprise from behind the scenes.

Magic: The Gathering Commander decks are coming and I could not be more excited.

You see as an avid advocate for the format formerly known as EDH I, and many others, want Magic players to experience Commander in its true glory. We want wacky and over-the-top awesome spells. We want ridiculously sized creatures paired up against equally (or nearly as equally) sized creatures. We want tribal decks, all-colorless decks, and this-is-everything-I-like-about-my-favorite-color decks. We want a touch (or deep drenching) of political intrigue, and a few other previously unknown surprises along the way.

Everything that makes up the heart and spirit of Commander is a powerful collection of ideas, themes, and shared ideals that stretch and twist within the heart of the community. Discussion of what, exactly, Commander should or shouldn’t be has been done multiple times. Rehashing that isn’t what I’m going to talk about today.

What I’m going to share is why the changes and new product announced last Thursday are potentially the greatest news yet.

Build Order

If you’re new or recent to Commander (which you can mentally substitute with Elder Dragon Highlander (or EDH) if it helps) you may not be aware of a few key facts:

  • Commander is player driven; rules and banning are set independent of DCI and Wizards (thanks to the hard work of the Rules Committee).
  • Commander has player-participants and advocates with Wizards of the Coast.
  • Magic R&D has designed cards with Commander, and other multiplayer formats, in mind.

It’s not a secret that prominent Wizard employees such as Aaron Forsythe, Ken Nagle, Scott Larabee and Kelly Digges all love it. So does Sheldon Menery, top dog of the DCI and frequent writer of all things Commander. Even professional players, like Sam Black, actively get in on the action.

That is why there should be little wonder that more and more cards that seem “perfect for Commander” have appeared recently: there is significant interest, demand, and personal investment for them. This summer’s product release is simply another way to actively support it by designing unique cards in a unique product release.

And like just about every new change there’s been some voices disagreement:

  • What if a new card becomes valuable for Legacy or Vintage?
  • Five decks at $30 (plus tax!) is OMGWAYTOOMUCH!
  • Wizards is now taking over and changing everything!
  • Now Commander is now a tournament format and everything is ruined forever!

Before I continue let me clarify: it’s okay to feel strongly about the announcement. Whether it’s favorably or unfavorably, being invested in and caring about the something you love (or hate, because haters got to hate and all that) is a really good thing. That passion is what drives things, and each of us, to greatness. (And my personal passion is exactly what drives me to write about this.)

But these complaints should not be concerns at all.

A New Card Becomes Valuable to Legacy or Vintage?

Let’s be honest: they previewed two cards. One gives a 5/5 dragon to every player other than the targeted one for a healthy seven mana. The other is an expensive legendary awesome that can recur a creature, by paying full mana price, once per turn.

These were not chosen randomly.

In fact, as so clearly stated, these were chosen to exemplify the principle of multiplayer interaction and social atmosphere of the multiplayer games Commander is meant to encourage. We’re not talking about a new Survival of the Fittest (they did that in Fauna Shaman), functional copies of the dual lands (something that’s expressly forbidden by the Reserved List agreement, and was essentially done with the Ravnica Block “shock” lands), or some hyper-efficient version of an already efficient Legacy staple.

We’re talking about a card that is a very expensive way to get a basic 5/5 flying Dragon, or a wacky but very interesting legendary creature at a converted mana cost that is only every cheated into play in Eternal formats.

These cards are specifically designed to not be these staple type cards. They are powerful, sure, but in contexts that are more common and specific to Commander games. Just like the scheme cards from Archenemy and the plane cards from Planechase some of these new cards will certainly be “better” in the terms of efficiency, power potential, and flexibility.

But it appears that the goal for the design of these new cards was to be optimal in a multiplayer environment.

Is there a chance that a card would be amazing for the deepest of competitive formats? Perhaps; stranger things have happened. But if I were a gambling man I’d place my bets solidly on the side of “Not going to happen.”

The Price is Unfair and Hurtful

There’s a lot of talk about prices in Magic, especially today in this age of financial content and ever growing discussions on trading and price trending. To say that there won’t be a financial impact due to these upcoming decks is a straight up lie: with decks of this size there should be at least a handful of reprints that will be useful cards.

All of the special release products, such as the Premium Deck Series and Duel Decks series, have included a few cards that easily carry some value. I won’t go into specific specifics as this isn’t my area of expertise but it’s easy to accept some reprinted cards are going to be useful to Commander players in general. When talking about building 100 card decks some utility is naturally going to appear.

Is $30 a fair price? Is $150 a fair price for all five decks? That’s an very subjective question.

These decks have to cost something and this price point, considering the size, scope, likely utility, new designs, and oversized “enhanced” Commander cards (for lack of a better term) I believe $30 is pretty fair.

Let’s put a little perspective on it: you want a Jace, the Mind Sculptor (like everyone else playing Magic). Either you’re buying him outright or cracking booster packs.

Only one of these ways is a solid guarantee.

If you want some new things for Commander these decks will likely be a sure thing. There’s no chance you’ll end up missing things. There’s no disappointment that what you opened isn’t what you had hoped. You get exactly what you ordered every time.

How much getting what you want is worth to you is entirely subjective. A price can be fair even if it’s obscene; if you wanted to buy the Hope Diamond the price can be nothing other than exorbitant. Worth is subjective; what’s obscene to you may be more than reasonable to someone else.

The Dirty Hands of Wizards are Now All Over My Precious

Recall the love for Commander, in its true community form, expressed and participated in by many members of our favorite hobby company. Now factor in that the format now known as Commander has been part of the comprehensive rules since September 2009.

Yes, EDH was “official” for well over a year.

There was no “BANG!” bullet of death for the format. There was no Pro Tour with it as a format. The point of inclusion of the rules, as determined by the player run committee, was to ensure that official Magic documentation shared the same information to everyone.

They wanted to make the message clearer than simply providing a web link. The rules are something not considered lightly. They wanted to make sure everyone had an indisputable source to point to.

Every big Magic event that I have attended has had Commander as a side event. Judges still play pickup games after the rounds have all ended for the day but you’re also just as likely to catch it everywhere throughout the events. Traders are ever more seeking out the cool cards they “need” for their Commander decks are as ubiquitous as black tee-shirts.

Wizards doesn’t want to change or force anything that contributes to the organic growth of Commander. They want to help more players experience it. Decks with new cards can only be produced by the Wizards themselves.

Relatedly, the biggest issue I’ve run into with Commander is that new and newer players have neither the card pool nor the card knowledge (that is knowing specific effects and cards exist) to put together a deck. They can borrow decks, and many do, but having your own deck feels so much better than anything customized by, and for, someone else. While I hesitate to truly say the upcoming decks will be “strong” since we know nothing about them (and that’s also very subjective), having a deck you can own, to change and try things as you want, that has some awesome cards you want anyway is going to be a great thing.

Pro Tour: Commander is Just Around the Corner

No. Just no. This, for fact, is not going to happen.

Yes, there are Commander tournaments. Anytime there is an amazing way to play some players are going to want to play it more competitively. During the heyday of Peasant (I sure do miss that format!) “Championships” were played at GenCon. The rules and banned list were constantly attended to and updated if needed. Strategy, tech, and a unique metagame emerged. And its cousin online, Pauper Deck Challenge, continues down the same trail already blazed.

Commander and competitive is an interesting dynamic. To say that it’s “wrong” to want to compete is the same as to say that it’s “wrong” to want to play an aggro deck or the color blue. We all want to play the ways we want to play. Regardless of what discussions or “social contracts” are placed on Commander, competitors will compete.

And that’s perfectly fine.

Commander tournaments aren’t for everyone the same way any tournament isn’t for everyone. If you don’t want to compete you don’t have to. Find those who also don’t want to throw down for prizes and start your own games.
That’s what I do at big events.

Players having decks designed for competition being at, unfortunate, odds with players who do not is a longstanding situation. But its been repeatedly stated that Commander isn’t going to be a big sanctioned format. There won’t be any Commander ratings or “real, ultimate tech” to be discovered. Some decks will blow out a combo on turn four every game, or artfully craft a board presence that cannot be mitigated or countered.

But from my experience on the floor of tournament events most decks will continue to be the crazy, wacky, good-times-are-a-comin’ decks those of us who buy into the community spirit of Commander love.

You can’t force others to play the way you want but you can choose to play only with players who do. (Say that five times fast – then don’t forget it.)

Get Over Yourself

Commander, at least for me, is fun incarnate. How you define that fun and exactly what deck you build to experience it may be intimately personal, but Wizards understands this. They aren’t looking to take everything that’s working and wreck it. They want the same thing we want: good times and great Magic.

Magic: The Gathering Commander decks are a good-faith statement from the highest level of the game – the makers themselves – joining in and giving the greatest gift they can: cool, new cards and even easier access to playing.

Stop griping, quit bitching, and join in celebrating the amazing response the community had been given for its years of hard work and proselytizing. This is a great time to playing Magic and will soon be and even greater time to be playing Commander.

Don’t let your unfounded fears ruin it for yourself.

Adam Styborski

Adam Styborski is a Magic player, marketer, and writer based out of the Washington, D.C. metro area. An acolyte of big events, kitchen tables, and everything inbetween, Adam finds interesting and contemplative subject matter across the entire range of Magic. With his trusty pauper cube, EDH decks, and occasional Constructed favorite you'll find just about everything touched at some point - mainly what you are asking to hear. As an editor for Quiet Speculation, Adam is a resource for your suggestions, submissions, questions, and concerns about anything that doesn't involve tournament decks and financial musings. You can reach out to him at styborski@gmail.com or on Twitter as @the_stybs.

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4 thoughts on “Command(er) & Conquer(ed)

  1. I do not like commander. either people are going to complain about people playing normal cards or try to do dumb things themselfs. i think that the format it too worried about being casual that casual players get mad when they loose. i watch people play and get mad all the time at my store. edh is kinda lame. it's not the players that want to win that need to get over themselfs it's the casual edh players that get mad when you attack them with a 2/2. terrible format.

  2. the problem i see with edh precons isn't the pricing. at least not of the deck itsself. the decks, by nature of being precons/starter decks will be bad. they wont be able to do much in the way of competing with any other edh deck other than the other precons. but they will carry certain staple cards to make them atractive to players without these staples other wise there would be little reason to buy them. this will casue those few staple cards(which will most likely not be legacy/vintage staples since it would cause a price drop there) will drop in price since limited availability and demand for edh/casual is the only thing holding their prices aloft.

    in addition to this, giving hundreds of new players all the same general is stupid. if ten new players get introduced to EDH with say the new dragon dude. then they have a few staples in those colors and that general. if they are just starting thats what they will be playing with for sometime unless they hate it. have 5 people with the same deck is annoying. having 5 people with the excact same bad list is even worse…

    i think EDH/commander was doing fine before hand. its a fun casual or competative format that was already in seemingly its hayday and gaining popularity. i don't want to sound like a WotC hater but they couldn't just leave a format that has been flourishing without them alone?

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